Big Ten dual champions! Woo! Look at those excited faces! (Well, Nathan Burak is most definitely excited.)
If you're wondering who's who...
TOP ROW: Matt Gurule, Bobby Telford, ??? (I'm not sure), Mike Evans
MIDDLE ROW: Grant Gambrall, Nathan Burak, Brody Grothus, Mark Ballweg
BOTTOM ROW: Tony Ramos, Derek St. John, Nick Moore, Matt McDonough
In any event, for the fifth time in six years, Iowa was crowned the Big Ten's dual meet champion this weekend, after finishing the conference season with a perfect 8-0 record. To be sure, it's not one of the most prestigious trophies in Iowa's cupboard (although if you want a better look at the trophy, here's a look -- Minnesota was co-Big Ten dual meet champion last year with Penn State and they had the trophy on display at the Minnesota State Fair). They don't raise banners in Carver-Hawkeye Arena for dual meet championships. Still, even if this title doesn't hold the cache of a Big Ten Tournament title or an NCAA Tournament title, it's still a nice accomplishment and a good indicator of how much Iowa has improved from last season. Tournaments are the be-all, end-all for collegiate wrestling, but dual meets are in some ways a better measure of a team's depth from top to bottom and Iowa's success in dual meets this year spotlights that depth. Iowa had quality options at 8 of 10 weights this year (and you can make a case for 197 being pretty credible as well), which made it tough for other teams to beat them in a dual meet setting.
Some people slight the dual meet championship because of the nature of imbalanced schedules -- not everyone wrestles everyone else. Of course, that's also true in football and we rarely see conference championships there called "illegitimate." Yes, schedules are imbalanced but Iowa also faced one of the toughest dual meet schedules imaginable this year. They wrestled five of the other top six teams in the Big Ten (everyone but Wisconsin), as well as seven of the top nine teams in the league. Two of the teams they didn't wrestle (Indiana and Northwestern) were the 10th and 11th best teams in the league. Those seven Big Ten opponents also ranked in the top-20 nationally; this was a very tough schedule and Iowa came through with it flying colors. Well done, Hawkeyes. (And, hey, if you want you can buy Big Ten dual meet championship gear, too.)
125: Jesse Delgado just did something that no one else has ever done to Matt McDonough in college: beat him twice. Granted, the club of one-time winners against McDonough only comprises four men (Delgado, Northwestern's Brandon Precin, Indiana's Angel Escobedo, and Arizona State's Anthony Robles), so he was already in pretty exclusive company. For the second straight year, Delgado tangled with McDonough in the regular season -- and for the second straight year, he beat him. This win was even more impressive than last year's triumph: he won 8-4 and the score was only that close because Delgado stopped wrestling the last 2-3 minutes and was content to coast to a victory. It wasn't the worst loss of McDonough's career (that would be the 7-1 loss Robles handed him in the 2011 NCAA Tournament fnials), but it wasn't far behind.
Delgado was in on McDonough's legs early and often in the match and unlike last week against Nico Megaludis, McDonough's scrambling and counter-wrestling couldn't save him here. Delgado's quickness also seemed to give McDonough definite problems and it was, overall, yet another disappointing performance from the man who should be Iowa's best wrestler. Delgado is a very good wrestler, but McD looked terrible here. Hopefully whatever's wrong with McDonough -- illness, weight cutting issues, etc. -- gets fixed ASAP because the really important matches are just around the corner and he's looking like anything but a sure thing to repeat as Big Ten or NCAA champion. The good news is that he rebounded from his loss to Delgado last year to rattle off two wins over Delgado (6-3 at NWCA National Duals, 4-3 at the Big Ten Tournament), so he can beat Delgado... but it's going to take some work to get back to that level this year.
This loss also makes a real muddle out of the seeding at this weight for the Big Ten Tournament, with McD, Nico, and Delgado now on pace to all finish with one loss apiece and mixed head-to-head results (McDonough beat Nico, Nico beat Delgado, Delgado beat McDonough). McDonough and Delgado both finished the year 6-1 (amusingly, both men sat out their respective matches against Purdue), while Megaludis finished the year 7-1 in B1G dual meets. It wouldn't surprise me if McDonough still got the #1 seed, given his history as a two-time B1G champion and two-time NCAA champion, but it's hard to know for sure how this weight will shake out.
133: McD might be having some struggles this year, but his spot as "the best wrestler on the team" has been ably filled by Tony Ramos. Iowa's tenacious 133er rung up his second-straight pinfall win (his team-leading eighth pin of the season), this time knocking off a top-10 wrestler in the process. After a cagey, quiet first period (that ended 0-0), Ramos got his offense going in the second period and never let up until he was able to hook Thomas for the pin late in the third period. The one "knock" on Ramos this season has been the fact that he hasn't faced a very tough schedule -- only three of his opponents this year are currently ranked in Intermat's top 20. But he doesn't control who he faces -- or their health -- and other than that tight 3-2 win over Okie State's Jon Morrison, he's been pretty much lights out against all comers this year. And he just smashed a top-10 guy. So, yeah, Ramos is having himself a damn good season.
141: This was a strange match for Ballweg. After taking apart Penn State's Bryan Pearsall en route to a 12-2 major decision a week ago, Ballweg was hanging on for dear life and was frankly a bit lucky to skulk out of this meet with a 2-0 win. Rodrigues is a good young wrestler, going 30-9 in his freshman year before this match, but he's not the sort of wrestler who should be giving Ballweg this much trouble if Ballweg is going to mount an All-America challenge this year. Ballweg's offense was virtually non-existent in this match and only some excellent scrambling saved him from giving up points to Rodrigues. Ballweg was able to get away with a sub-par performance here, but he'd be wise not to make a habit of it as we get closer to March (and tournament time). And from the fun fact department: Rodrigues was a former Rutgers wrestler who was rumored to be heading to Iowa for a time.
149: Grothus got the nod here and Grothus lost again. Sigh. This weight is just depressing. Let's move on.
157: Another match involving Derek St. John that got chippy (I'm sensing a trend here; let's just say he's not going to win any Sportsman of the Year Awards in the Big Ten anytime soon), with both guys getting dinged for penalty points (open-hand slaps are still a no-no, Mr. Nora). After getting slapped by Nora, though, St. John proceeded to bitchmake him en route to that 20-8 major decision, putting on an absolute takedown clinic. Bonus points are the one aspect of St. John's game that could stand to improve, so it was nice to see him work for them here.
165: This was a chance to see where Nick Moore stood in relation to the lower-rung All-America challengers at this weight and the answer seems to be that he's not quite there yet. Moore needs to work on finishing his shots against better opponents; under Morningstar's tutelage, his defense appears to have improved enough to keep him out of too much trouble against most guys (David Taylor excluded), but his offense is still too inconsistent against good competition. If he can get that sorted out, he can fight for a spot on the podium in March.
174: Another match for The 'Stache, another top-10 opponent, and another win for The 'Stache as well. Mustache rides for everyone! Mustache rides were the order of the day in this match, in fact, given that Evans rode Blanton hard for almost the entire third period of this match to get his riding time point. He wasn't able to get his offense working (I think this might have been the only match of his all season where he wasn't able to get a takedown of his own) as he and Blanton spent a lot of time tangled up in collar-and-elbow tie-ups (in fact, minus the hundred-point weight difference you could have been forgiven for thinking that you were watching a heavyweight slobberknocker during the first period of this match). Still, Evans found a way to grind out a win, which is something he's done with impressive regularity this season.
184: I was a bit surprised to see Lofthouse get the nod here after Gambrall was handed the start against Penn State last week (and did a credible job against the terrifying Ed Ruth), but Lofthouse repaid Brands' faith in him with one of his best outings of the season. Lofthouse was unusually active in this match, looking for his own offense often against Dallago, He dictated the pace, stuffed Dallago's offense for the most part, and was successful at getting his own takedowns. This was a very solid outing by Ethen.
197: Gonzalez, the defending Big Ten champion at this weight, has had a somewhat underwhelming season in 2012-13, but he was still another quality opponent that Burak managed to take to the wire. Burak is feisty and as soon as he can figure out how to finish his shots consistently, he's going to be a beast. He works a quicker pace than most other 197ers and is pretty relentless for the full 7 minutes. His defense is also pretty solid for a true freshman; the missing piece in his game right now is really just his ability to finish his shots. He was in deep on Gonzalez in this match, but couldn't finish the job. When he gets that part down, look out.
285: Finally, Bobby Telford capped off the night in impressive fashion, scoring an emphatic first-period pin against the overmatched Lopez. Telford used a slick slide-by move to take Lopez down early in the period and he spent the rest of the period methodically working on turning Lopez, something he finally managed to do late in the period. It was great to see Telford a) look so aggressive, and b) be so successful at getting bonus points. That's what Iowa will need out of Telford in March if they want to challenge for bonus points.
149: I'm not sure what happened to Mike Kelly, but we might want to form a posse to go look for him. Not that he was a great option, but at least he didn't lose by lopsided margins; this was Grothus' third major decision loss in Big Ten competition. It was also the second straight match this weekend where he got blanked, which is just awful. Grothus has a lot of "almost got 'im" offense (which was on full display against Illinois), but until he can actually finish those moves consistently and, you know, score points it's kind of a waste. This weight is an utter train wreck for Iowa. Again.
157: It looked like it was going to be a really rough start for Iowa in this dual after Green jumped out to a 4-1 lead, but St. John battled back to grind out a 6-4 win. Ultimately, this match played out almost exactly like I expected: Green's speed and explosiveness did cause DSJ problems (see: those two first-period takedowns he scored), but his lack of a gas tank also led to his downfall. St. John got a crucial takedown in the second period and rode him out, then rode him like a pony in the third period to get a riding time point (and a stalling point after the gassed Green eventually stopped doing anything on the mat).
165: Nick Moore got back on the winning track here, dispatching Nebraska's Wilson with relative ease. Moore appeared to be headed to a solid decision win (he was up 5-1 after two periods) before finishing him off with a pin in the third period. It was great to see Moore continuing to be aggressive on offense at that point of the match (something he hasn't always done in the past) and even better that he was able to seal the deal with a pin.
174: And The Legend of The 'Stache did grow... Evans completed his insane Big Ten schedule (six wrestlers ranked in the top-10, three of whom were ranked #2 in the nation when they wrestled Evans) with a flourish on Sunday, knocking off old rival Robert Kokesh 9-6 in the match of the meet. Evans looked fantastic here, frankly: his offense from neutral was as good as it's been all year, his scrambling was again phenomenal (seriously, watching him here and against Brown a week ago... it's astounding how Evans is able to escape from some positions where it looks like his opponent has him dead to rights), and he rode him viciously and was thisclose to turning him for back points (or a pin).
If there was a flaw in Evans' match it was one we've seen several times this season: he has a tendency to get too high on an opponent's torso when riding them, which gives them an opportunity to get an easy reversal on him -- Kokesh did it twice in this match. In part, that's a function of Evans' aggressiveness and while the aggression is good, it needs to be tempered with a little more caution, too -- Evans just can't be giving up cheap points like that. But that's my only complaint; other than that, Evans looked fantastic against a guy who had been great against other 174ers this year. Evans is wrestling at a very high level right now.
184: I guess the coin said "Gambrall" for this meet. After Lofthouse got the nod on Friday and won in solid fashion, I assumed he would get the call again here, but Brands opted for another round of The Grant Gambrall Experience. It didn't go poorly -- at least until Gambrall bizarrely attempted an upper-body throw against Ihnen in sudden victory. (SPOILER ALERT: it went badly.) But Gambrall also wasn't able to complete any of his own shots (nor was he able to ride Ihnen, but that's not much of a surprise) and generally looked like he was struggling mightily to score. Maybe the idea was that Lofthouse would get one match this weekend and Gambrall would get the other and they'd compare results. Maybe Brands is going to keep flipping coins here until right before the Big Ten Tournament. Whatever the case, suffice to say that things are a bit confused for Iowa at 184 right now.
197: BURAK ATTACK! Well, okay, that's probably not an accurate way to describe this match since it would seem to imply a flurry of offense, but hey. Burak was very active and this time he was able to finish a shot (although it took until overtime to do it). I will say that Burak is probably more fun to watch at 197 than anyone Iowa has put out here in years (with the exception of Uncle Luke in his senior season): he tends to be very offensive-minded and he has an impressive gas tank for an upper weight guy. If anything, he reminds me of a puppy. He doesn't always know what he's doing, but he has energy to burn and he's not afraid of anything.
285: For a period, it looked like were on our way to another impressive, bonus point-scoring dominant win for Bobby Telford. Then it turned into just another heavyweight match. Ho hum. Bobby roared out to a 4-1 lead, but spent the second and third periods doing... not a whole lot, except for trying to turn Johnson for back points. That 4-1 first period put Telford in great position to go after a major decision here, so it was disappointing to take his foot off the gas in subsequent periods. Iowa will need all the bonus points they can get in tournaments in March.
125: Good god, Matt McDonough scored bonus points in a match! It pains me that such a thing is actually remarkable this season, but that's the way things go. McD's tech fall in this match was his first bonus point win since majoring Steve Bonanno of Hofstra back in December. Yeesh. I figured McD would get bonus points in this match, since he was facing a true freshman way out of his depth, and he did not really disappoint, although this still wasn't a vintage McD performance. He struggled to finish takedowns at times and he wasn't able to pin Coufal, but hey: it's still a 20-5 tech fall win, so there's not really that much to complain about here.
133: The question going into this match was: can Tony make it three pins in a row? Answer: an emphatic yes. Ramos put on a takedown clinic in the first period, then locked up a cradle early in the second and used that to score a pin. Nagel may not have been the best opponent, but there's no denying that Tony is on absolute tear right now. His offense from neutral remains outstanding and the fact that he's added an increased ability to get guys on their backs and/or pin them (he has a team-high nine pins this season) makes him even more dangerous.
141: Mark Ballweg closed out the dual, cruising to an easy 6-1 win over Kiley. This match was frustrating in the same way that the Telford match was frustrating: Ballweg showed great aggression in jumping out to a fast lead (up 4-1 after the first period), but he seemed to pump the brakes in the second and third periods and failed to get the major decision. That was weird, because Ballweg has been one of Iowa's better bonus-point scorers this year -- he's picked up bonus points in 12 of his 18 wins this season, including ten major decisions. He needs to regain that spark before March.
NEXT: Regular season dual meet finale against #16 Edinboro next Saturday (7 pm CT).